Sunday, June 24, 2012
Words by Nicholas Storey
In his poem The Task the poet William Cowper gave the world the often paraphrased lines:
‘Variety’s the very spice of life,
That gives it all its flavour.’
We need variety in food and drink fully to relish and savour them as pleasures beyond the practicality of refuelling, and travel gives us reviving changes of scene. Sport, games, recreations and hobbies give us relief, beyond mere idleness, from work, and ringing the changes in our dress can also be refreshing.
Will recently wrote a reflective piece about odd jackets in town.
Three piece City and country suits, with matching coats, breeches, or knickerbockers (later trousers) and vests began as ‘dittos’ in the mid-eighteenth century, as described in magazines such as an issue of Connoisseur in 1756 (“a suit of ditto”), and of Microcosm in 1787 (from which point it assumed the plural form “dittos”).
However, complementing combinations, which were more prevalent then, are still with us in the sports (or odd) jacket worn with different trousers and vest or jumper; they are also there in the blazer and nautical reefer worn with flannels or ducks (of whatever colour); British army tradition puts regimental buttons on a black or navy blue reefer and calls it a a ‘polo jacket’, matching it up with cavalry twill trousers, as we can see in the photograph of Ernest Simpson (whose renown stems chiefly for his short-lived marriage to Wallis). His buttons are of his old regiment, The Coldstream Guards, and the buttons are even arranged as they would be on the uniform coat.
The short, black morning coat (also called a ‘stroller’ or ‘Stresemann’, after the German politician Gustav Stresemann), worn with a matching or contrasting vest and either Cashmere-striped or hound’s-tooth trousers (even plain gray or buff come to that), remained a City outfit in politics, business and the professions well into the 1960s and lingers still with Masonic lodges and some managers in the hotel and catering industry, as well as with a few Mandarins in the civil service and English and Scottish lawyers.
The continuing drive towards ever less formal and ornate men’s modern dress, originally started by the rustication of men’s general civilian dress, in the wake of the American and French Revolutions (to eradicate ostentation amongst the richer classes in England and so avoid fomenting revolutionary feeling against them), under the influence of men such as Beau Brummell and Scrope Berdmore Davies, has meant that even the semi-formal City outfit described above has been nearly wholly displaced by dittos; the suit. This is something of a pity because the possibilities that the semi-formal rig offered for mixing and matching were considerable; carrying also the consequential benefit that, as single items in complimentary combinations wore out, they could be replaced without worries over cloth and pattern-matching between coats, vests and trousers.
There is already a post on this site of a black double-breasted stroller worn with a pair of checked trousers and it has such a modern touch about it that some men today could feel quite comfortable wearing it in place of a City suit.
Back to black.
Give it a go, and see how you can ring the changes!